Disclaimer: Nothing from this Marvelous universe is mine.
Summary: Three months after Operation Avengers all is well. Or is it? When Steve and Tony hack into SHIELD to find missing weapons shipments they find more than they bargained for in the form of a prisoner who should, by rights, have been sent to Asgard long ago.
Warnings: Moderately graphic torture, hints of non-con.
A/N: Happy (early) Easter! (if you celebrate it) \o/ Also, a huge, huge thank you again to every single one of you, for every review, every fav, every alert, and every second you spent choosing to read this monster. Your support meant, and still means, more to me than I can properly say. I would never have written or finished this beast without you. I cannot express that enough so just— Thank you. Thank you. *-* I am so very, very grateful to everyone. (Again, credit to the lovely GothicCheshire, for betaing this, and for the consistent encouragement whenever I felt too discouraged, or too insecure, to go on. X3)
Chapter 47: The End of the Road
For a long time, Loki is quiet.
His chest aches. His heart hurts. His mind is blissfully, terribly blank. A mercy, that. Distantly, he thinks he is waiting for Thor to add something, but Thor is as silent as he.
Two minutes pass. Five.
It's almost... companionable, this stillness. Or perhaps it isn't. He's not sure. If he inched close enough, would Thor crush him into one of the hugs that only his not-brother knows— has ever known— how to give, and sear the filth that lingers from his veins? If he tried, would Loki drive a dagger through his side? Probably, and perhaps.
A charming pair of fools, the two of them make. He wonders which of them is worse.
Wonders, when sense returns, what to say.
Sincerity eludes him. He does not know that he would have minded visiting Hela, for a day or a year or a decade. But then, he has not killed himself, so clearly he would. Thor is not welcome, but useless as it is, Loki does not want to taunt him for this sentimentality just yet. Alone, he would sit. Would cool his aching head against his hands, perhaps, and close his eyes. He is not alone, and so he stands, hands clasped loosely behind him, and just… breathes, listening to the sea. Seven minutes pass. Ten.
"We should return," Loki says, eventually, to the darkness.
"I am not leaving in these clothes, brother."
"Then fix them."
A slight pause.
"I cannot," Thor admits, grudgingly, folding his arms across his chest. "You know that, brother. I cannot summon Mjolnir without smashing either the walls or windows of this house."
Loki eyes Thor. Thor frowns. Serious, that frown, but there is the light of challenge in Thor's eyes above it.
Has Thor missed this, then? The simple pleasure of arguing? Foolish, that, if it is true. And yet...
It's always been fun, taunting Thor.
"You truly do not like them?" Loki says, "But purple suits you so well."
"It does nothing of the sort."
"Oh but it does. It matches the bruises I left on your wrist before. I imagine, if you do not master yourself, it will soon match your complexion."
Thor's eyes flash. Above them, the thunder rumbles.
"Fix it, brother."
Loki's smile widens, goading.
"No. Consider this a lesson, Thor, against showing mercy to Frost Giants."
"Loki-," Thor starts.
Loki steps away from the edge of the balcony, turning away towards the house.
Thor's hand lands on his shoulder. Loki stiffens.
"Change them back, brother. Now," Thor commands.
Logically, Loki is aware, he could toss Thor over the edge of the balcony as easily as Obi-Wan force pushing battle-droids. Logically, Thor could damn Tony's walls to Helheim, and summon Mjolnir and all of his armour back in approximately three seconds. Logically. Loki raises an eyebrow, eyes glinting, and he's courting disaster, perhaps, but why should he let that stop him? He never has, and there's no one here to see.
"What. The hell," Tony says.
They're on a cluster of rocks mid-way up the cliffs. Tony's suited up, prepped for disaster.
Thor and Loki are... not. Thor is drenched, has a split lip and has more tangles in his hair than Bellatrix Lestrange, and Loki isn't much better off. Neither of them answer him. They're like kids. Giant, bedraggled kids, and Tony's torn between hoping for their sake whatever brand of awesome flows through their veins also makes those tangles not nearly as bad as they look, and hoping that they are exactly that bad, because for that false alarm they deserve it.
"Well?" Tony prods.
Neither Thor nor Loki says anything.
"That was rhetorical. I have CCTV wired to the suit. I checked it. You know, after Jarvis gave me the memo that you two were fighting. Not that it shows much after you tackled him off my balcony."
Thor has the grace to flush.
Another silence. Then:
"... Do not tell Pepper?" Loki says, hopefully.
Tony pinches the bridge of his nose.
"Your priorities are seriously messed up. You know that, right?"
"Yes," Loki agrees, still hopefully.
Tony eyes Loki's dripping form. Eyes Thor's. Both of them stink of seaweed. Technically, so does he from when he dragged them, brawling, out of the sea.
"I hate to break it to you, buddy, but she's going to know something's up with one look at you. I mean, have you seen your hair?"
Self-consciously, Loki pats it.
"It does not feel that-,"
"It is," Thor cuts him off.
Loki sends him a poisonous look that has pissed off little brother stamped all over it. Then he waves one hand. Green light flickers from his palm for a moment, and instinctively Tony takes a step towards him, and then stops because Loki keeps looking... not-faint-y.
"You're okay?" he says.
He's looked at some of the footage.
Apparently, he hasn't looked at the security footage enough.
"Oh. That," Loki says dismissively, now dressed in something green and black that looks straight out of Game of Thrones. "Yes, I fixed my magic. Or at least, I have found a way of dealing with the side-effects of the Allfather's binding. Thor helped," he adds, grudgingly, and if Thor is 'Thor' now, Tony'll believe it. Thor, too, raises a hand, only it's Mjolnir that flies to his palm, not light. A moment later, he's looking pristine too.
Pristine, and armored and not purple at all.
Jarvis takes a moment to report that apparently, Tony's going to need to repair Thor's bedroom window.
"You're insane," Tony says, eying them.
"It is an old problem," Thor agrees.
"Don't tell Pepper?" Loki says, for the second time.
Tony eyeballs him. Loki sends him a look that makes him think of small puppies and seals dying somewhere cold and alone of starvation.
"Hoes before bros, buddy. My skin comes first. If she asks, I'm not lying for you."
The pathetic look vanishes, replaced by annoyance. Thor grins, and claps him on the shoulder.
"You are wise, my friend."
"He is not," Loki says, sending Thor a dirty look, "I am far more dangerous to cross than she will ever be."
"You're not," Tony says, "You can't make me sleep on the couch or do paperwork for a month."
Loki frowns and slumps sullenly back against the rocks behind him.
"So..." Tony says when the silence stretches, "How long is it going to take, as a rough estimate, for you and Bruce to fix the serum now?"
"I do not know. How much does it matter if there are side-effects I have not tested for?"
Tony turns that one over.
"I hate medicine."
"So, Tony, do I."
Magic, Tony works out over the next few days, is not fair. That, or Loki isn't. He's not sure.
"So what you're saying," Tony says for the umpteenth time, squinting up at Loki, who's precariously balanced on a ladder grabbing— something— off the top shelf of his workshop, "Is that you can teleport and magic up 3D scans of unknown molecules just like that, but you can't rustle up a cheeseburger?"
"Tony," Loki sighs, "If you desire one that badly, why do you not get SHIELD to buy one? Or fly to McDonald's yourself?"
"Not the point, buddy. You can turn Thor's clothes purple but you can't do a little accio-whatever?"
Loki glances down at him. He looks tired, Tony thinks, but then which of them don't?
"If I were to use that charm, would the food not be stone cold by the time it got here, and covered both with insects and dust from its flight?"
Tony jabs a pen at him.
"Also not the point. I mean, at the least you should be able to wash the dishes with it."
"Perhaps, but then Steve would have nothing to feel virtuous about after dinner."
Tony eyes Loki.
"I can't tell if you're joking there or not."
Loki just smiles a bit and goes back to looking for... whatever it is he is looking for. A USB stick, it turns out, which the demigod plugs into a laptop after doing something magic-y in lieu of a decent encryption-slash-password. Tony's not even going to ask why it was up there.
"Why can't you do it, though?" he persists, after a minute or so.
"The dishes?" Loki says, abstractedly, now typing.
"Them. Accio. Instant feasts. I mean, if you can break one law of physics, why can't you break them all?"
Loki sighs in a way that says Tony is being an idiot. Tony doesn't relent.
After a moment or two, Loki caves.
"Because I spent too much time playing with Thor and killing things, and not enough time in the library. That, I suppose, is the simple answer. Doubtless some mage, somewhere, has invented the spell that will unfailingly create a cheeseburger or clean the filth from platters but I have not learned it. Why would I bother? That is what delivery drivers and servants are for."
"You need to learn spells?" Tony says, sceptically, "I thought you just sort of," he waves a vague hand, "wanted things."
One click. Another click. Spectral databases, Loki's looking at now.
"Sometimes," Loki allows. "It is a question of discipline. Magic is as exhausting as you imagine the task before you to be. I happen to find the thought of eradicating each and every fleck of dirt off a plate— whether by teleportation, summoning water and getting rid of it afterwards, or implosion— both tedious and complicated. Spells help, but not because one learns phrases like 'accio'— though they can be that. They help because they are theories put forth by scholars; methods of envisioning tasks in ways that make them seem easy enough to accomplish without collapsing from exhaustion before one starts. Like Dagobah, with the X-wing. Luke believed it was impossible; thus he failed. Yoda did not; for him, the task was easy. There are exceptions, of course, like counterspells, and one can kill oneself by overstretching, but that is the point of studying and not acting blindly. Does that clarify things?"
It clarifies things about as much as a handful of mud tossed in a cup of purified water.
Tony says so.
"And that is why you are not a mage," Loki says, dismissively.
"And that is the lamest cop-out of the century," Tony counters.
Loki raises an eyebrow.
"... Okay, maybe not the lamest but it's up there with 'em."
Loki rolls his eyes and goes back to working.
"... Can you turn yourself into a snake?"
Tony digests that.
"... But not summon a cheeseburger."
"Have you considered, Tony, letting me work and bothering Thor with this instead?"
"Thor just says that magic is advanced alien science, and that I'd be better off asking you if I want more detail. Also, there's the whole mutual doe-eyed adoration thing he has going with Jane whenever they happen to be in the same room together."
Loki mutters something beneath his breath that Tony'd stake his soul on is some sort of alien profanity.
"In what universe, buddy, is transforming yourself into a snake or a pigeon easier than making a burger?"
"The same universe in which I do not rip out your tongue to silence your prattling?" Loki suggests.
"... You need to work on your people skills."
"Yes, so Thor told me the last time I ripped out someone's tongue for bothering me."
Tony eyes Loki. Loki keeps typing.
"I jest, Tony," the demigod says, after a moment or two, glancing at him.
"... You have one seriously messed up sense of humor."
"Oh? I do, do I?"
"You do," Tony says, firmly.
Loki glares at him a bit half-heartedly, before giving a little shrug and turning back to the screen. Is he getting anywhere? Tony's not sure. It doesn't look like it, but then, he's not sure what somewhere would look like. He'd offer to automate things, but he's pretty sure if they could be automated, Loki'd already have Jarvis doing it now.
"Did you rip out people's tongues though?" Tony says after a little while, morbidly curious.
"Mm? Not really. The punishment of criminals was not one of my duties, and I fought to kill, not to maim. What use was there in tearing out tongues when they were dead?"
"... You're mildly disturbing sometimes, Robbie."
"Only sometimes?" Loki says, with a sharp grin.
Tony cuffs him on the shoulder.
Loki doesn't stiffen or flinch. Just smiles a bit and keeps typing. It's something he's noticed these last few days, that growing confidence. Pepper attributes it to better emotional stability now that Loki and Thor are on speaking terms again, but Tony's not so sure. Personally, his money's on the magic. There's got to be something about knowing you can teleport when things go south or rustle up a dagger to make you feel safer, right?
"Getting anywhere?" Tony says, after a while.
"Yes. Slowly, but yes."
Another silence. Then:
"Up for another movie night?"
"That, Tony, depends on what we will be watching."
"If I said 'Lilo and Stitch'-"
"I would find a screw and carve 'I am a meddling fool' into your favorite suit. Repeatedly."
Loki's eyes narrow.
"'Hunchback of Notre-Dame?'"
"Do you want me to add 'persistent' to that carving?"
"So what would you say yes to?"
"Now? Nothing. I am working, and I will keep working so that we will go home sooner rather than later. You may watch what you will."
"Besides, I have already promised Steve that I will watch an entire collection of movies with him starring someone called Fred Astaire. I imagine that will keep what free time I have occupied at least for the next few days."
"He's making you sit through black and white movies?"
"Is there some problem with those?"
"Besides the lack of color?"
"Mm. They do not need it, do they?"
"Do they?" Loki says, slightly less certain.
"I'll let you be the judge," Tony says, shuddering. "You'll be watching enough of them."
Loki raises an eyebrow, unimpressed.
"There is no need to sound like that. No one is making you watch them too."
"True. I ought to suggest that, actually," Loki says, musingly. "Since you hate them so much. It would be a fair payback, would it not, for 'Stuart Little?' I wonder, do you hate the silent ones more or less?"
"I feel like answering that question and handing an unarmed assassin a loaded gun when he's trying to kill me have things in common."
Loki grins, sharp and white.
"... Do you use magic to clean your teeth in Asgard, or toothbrushes?"
"Tony..." Loki groans.
"I have endured Thor's sappiness all morning, and your questioning for two days. I have put up with Bruce and Pepper giving me looks in case I am only pretending to be fine and I have not spent any time with only Steve since before Thor came. I have one nerve left. You are getting on it."
Tony isn't a wise person, on the whole, but his inner Bruce tells him that there are times when discretion is the better part of valour.
This is one of them.
Tony beats a hasty retreat.
For the next two hours after Tony's departure, Loki is left to study in peace.
Then Fury calls.
On the whole, Loki thinks, Fury is tolerable when he doesn't feel like squeezing the jelly from the mortal's remaining eyeball. Fury is pragmatic. His goal is not to reform or educate, but to get results. This, at least, Loki grasps. So long as these are there at the end, so long as it has nothing to gain from doing so, SHIELD will not turn on him. He hates SHIELD, yes, for what it did and did not stop, but he understands it. And so he will work with it, at least while Steve and Tony do. It is not unfair. That is how most of SHIELD, probably, feels about himself.
"How long will it be before I have a cure?" Fury asks.
"As an estimate? Somewhere between two days and seven."
It is no lie. Tedious though the work before him is, he is making progress. Especially with Bruce providing both blood to test the chemicals he creates on, and insight interpreting their results.
"Of course," Loki adds, eyes hooded, "Once I have discovered a suitable chemical, my part in this ends. It is your job to find a way of producing it without by-products in the sort of quantities you will need for it to be of any use. Fascinating though I find your science, medicine is not my field."
"You can't make up pure chemicals in bulk with magic?"
Cheating, Tony would call that. Perhaps it is.
"Are you asking for my help, Fury?" Loki says, amused.
Fury is silent.
"I could, of course," Loki allows. "That, I suppose, is the short answer. But I will not. Magic is tiring when used in the sort of quantities you will require, and I am not altruistic enough to spend a week bedridden merely to safeguard a few thousand mutants against a threat which does not yet exist."
Another silence. Then:
"I expect a full report, and the cure, on my desk within seven days," Fury says, ending the call.
Yes, Loki thinks, tossing his new StarkPhone back on the desk. He grows more able to tolerate Fury.
He would tear Fury's heart out, yes, if Fury tried to threaten him or force his obedience, but it is refreshing that he does not try.
In the evening, he watches something called 'Follow the Fleet' with Steve.
He likes it for many reasons, but mostly, he suspects, because Steve does and is watching it with him, and there is nothing in it that makes him think too much at all. They drink when it is done; Steve, orange juice, and himself coffee. They're in one of the upstairs lounge rooms, alone. They do not leave immediately; downstairs, Jarvis says, everyone else is watching the first film of the Hobbit. Instead, they speak of nothing, for a while. Exchange favourite quotes, favourite scenes, and snatches of song. Steve sings well, they discover. Loki does not, but trying anyway is more fun than it should be. He is, he suspects, more than a little overtired.
They fall silent, eventually, but it does not matter. The silence is a placid sort, easy enough to break and comfortable enough that there is no need to.
Loki's mind wanders, to the future. The past.
"If Polt were to escape, could I kill him instead of recapturing him if he were threatening other humans?" he asks idly, after a while.
Steve glances at him.
"Well, I'm not sure anyone would blame you if you did."
Loki hmms, swirling his glass.
And if I were to free him first? What then?
He would be a hypocrite, probably, since no one has yet killed himself for fear of what he might do or in retribution for what he has done, and he does not wish them to. He's always hated double-standards. There is a saying in this realm, is there not, that the faults one most hates appear most often in oneself. Does self-awareness, Loki wonders, make that problem better or worse?
"You feeling alright?" Steve asks, frowning.
"Mm? Yes," Loki says, to his coffee. "I have not slept well these last few days, that is all."
Loki laughs, startled, looking up at him.
"Must it be something so pitiful? I am studying, that is all. Do you never find that when you grapple with a problem your mind will not rest?"
"I'm not quite sure I'd call having nightmares pitiable," Steve says, raising an eyebrow. "It's fairly normal, after all. But I know what you mean, about the thinking too hard on things. I remember— not so much later, but earlier in the war, those first few missions where men and women were putting their lives on the line following my strategies— I used to lie there sometimes thinking, 'What if it goes wrong?'"
"Go wrong? Not really. Not until Bucky, and it wasn't long after that that I fell into the ice. But then, for all that they had the tesseract, I'm not sure HYDRA really shone in those days in the planning department."
"Have they ever shone?" Loki scoffs.
"True," Steve allows. "Though I'm not sure you're really in a position to look down on them, in terms of world domination tactics."
Loki bristles, glaring. Steve holds his gaze.
Loki thinks back on his invasion.
"... Fair enough," he allows, grudgingly.
Silence, for a while. Loki downs the rest of his coffee.
"I should return to the workshop."
"Still sure there's nothing I can do for you?"
"Very. If I find something that works with Bruce's blood, I may test it on yours, but until then..." Loki trails off, shrugging.
Steve nods, leaning back against the couch.
"If you do come up with something, let me know. I'll probably be in the gym."
"True," Steve grins, a bit ruefully. "It's funny, isn't it? Before the ice, I used to think that once HYDRA was done, once the war was over, I'd kick back, have a break, you know? Sleep for a week, maybe. Now there's no one in miles and nothing useful I can do except PR releases, I feel..." he trails off, and Loki can think of words that might fill that blank.
Idle. Bored. Useless.
You are not.
"Feeling sorry for me?" Steve says, raising an eyebrow.
"No," Loki says, shortly, because feeling protective is different. "I reserve my pity for starving kittens, Frigga, and those who choose to drink coffee without adding milk, chocolate or sugar."
"She has put up with Thor moping since I fell, with me for the past ten centuries, and with the Allfather since she married him."
"...I'm reserving judgement until I meet her."
Loki smiles, a little. Rises.
"You may well get that chance, if you keep fighting beside Thor. I do not think it will be long before he invites all of you here to one of the feasts in Asgard to celebrate your victories." Always assuming that he does not fall out of the Allfather's favor for flirting with Foster first.
Steve hmms noncommittally.
"You would like them. You like roasts, and our mead would, I think, make even you drunk."
"You make that sound like it should be a draw-card."
"It is not?"
Steve sends him a dry look that says, I am not Tony, and Loki snorts. Truthfully, he cannot imagine Steve drunk. Still, Steve had tried to become so after Bucky, had he not? The desire had been there, once. It may not be there now, but still... When Loki visits Fenris, when this mess is done, he will make sure he brings mead back to offer him. He owes Steve that much. For now, though…
For now, he merely makes his way over, cup in hand, towards the door. Makes to turn the handle, and then hesitates, hand outstretched, looking back. Steve has not moved. He slouches still, just... watching, gaze inquiring. Loki hesitates a moment more. Then:
"Did you ever dream of them, during the war? Of those you did not save?"
Of the times you failed?
Loki hesitates once more.
"Idle curiosity; nothing more. I merely wondered... how long was it, for you, before they stopped?"
One month? Ten?
"They haven't, yet," Steve admits, "Not really. But then, it's been, for me, what? Four months, since the war ended? It's normal, remembering. When it gets too bad, I just beat up a punching bag. Or a string of them."
Loki laughs. He's not sure why.
"Only bags? You do not target anything more— alive?"
"I'm not usually working on special ops at night, so no. Not really."
Fair enough, Loki supposes.
"You may wake me, if you wish," he offers, because— why? "If you dream at night and wish to fight more than bags, you may wake me."
"You do not have to," Loki cuts him off, waving a dismissive hand, "It is only that hurting bags or smashing pottery does not always work, at least for me. I used to wake Thor sometimes in Asgard when—" I wanted to fight. When I wanted to hurt something. When I wanted to be hurt by someone. "—they were not enough. I wondered if you were the same. It is fine if you are not."
Understanding flickers in Steve's eyes, followed by— something.
Loki narrows his eyes. Tilts his head a little to one side.
"Are you feeling sorry for me, Captain?"
"No. I reserve my sympathy for orphans, anyone being bullied, and for people who say they're a fan of the Star Wars prequels in front of Tony."
Loki snorts, amused. Turns back, towards the door.
"I'll make you a deal, though," Steve says, more seriously, behind him. "I'll wake you, as long you promise that if you need to, you'll wake me."
Loki looks back, too quickly, and they're too clear, Steve's eyes. Too kind.
"Is there anything you want to talk about?"
Loki laughs before he can stop himself, chest flooded by sudden, unreasoning warmth.
It hurts, and he does not know why.
One day, perhaps, he will say yes to that properly. Will speak of Baldur, perhaps, and Angrboda. Of SHIELD. Of Thanos. One day. But not this day.
Today, he merely shakes his head and flees.
The next few days move slowly.
Research goes on. Loki fixes Bruce's hand.
Thor gets up before Jane each morning, and spends breakfast talking to Loki and bonding with Steve over things like food and fighting. Tony's calling bullshit on the stop-annoying-me face Loki puts on when Thor chats to him because he's yet to see the demigod get up at any time that would make him miss his big brother's company. Jane becomes an honorary member of the science bro club when Tony works out that she can explain magic with science. He's working on grasping her equations, but that equations exist makes him feel better about life in general.
Thor just rolls his eyes and says something about having already told Tony about magic being advanced science.
Tony joins Bruce on the analysis front, and learns more than he ever wanted to about molecules and their geometry. Steve and Clint do... whatever they do, which probably involves SHIELD, writing reports, and lots of jogging.
When they get their breakthrough on the serum four days in, Tony breaks into the McLaggen and gets himself thoroughly sloshed.
Loki makes enough of the cure to fix Steve's blood, and Bruce's.
"To test for side effects," Loki explains, "Before I tell Fury. I do not anticipate any, but if I am wrong, at least both of you will probably survive them."
"Thanks," Bruce says, drily.
He does live, though, and so does Steve.
SHIELD's command, once they've confirmed there's no immediate side effects— and Tony's not too sure how he feels about that; Phase 3 trials exist for a reason, and he sees court cases crawling up like ants out of a kicked ant's nest in ten, twenty years' time— is to hand the research over to Xavier's mob. This has the advantage that working out how to actually create the thing non-magically isn't Fury's problem anymore, and that Xavier's mob have a lot more reason to be careful about the research than SHIELD's scientists do. According to Clint, the Government won't be providing anything more than funding.
The disadvantage is that someone has to be the one to tell Xavier about the chance of instant mutant death hanging around on the off-chance Polt managed to slip that intel to someone on the side.
Which, that isn't going to be awkward at all.
Thank goodness for telepathy, Tony supposes.
He hands the research on the cure to Xavier personally.
He also—against orders, this time—hands it to Magneto.
There's a certain awkwardness in that meeting.
Partly, this is because Magneto doesn't have telepathy, which means Tony has to put the situation into words himself. It doesn't help that Tony and tact don't really go together, or that Magneto is touchy about mutants and genocide and life in general, and perfectly capable of tearing the shrapnel through his heart faster than Tony can think 'fuck'.
Still, despite the awkwardness, Tony doesn't think it goes too badly, all things considered. Tony's polite enough, in that he doesn't shoot Mystique too hard in the chest when she tries strangling him when he crashes though Magneto's study roof; a stealthy entry courtesy of a cloaking device and a spell or two from Loki. Magneto's civil enough by Magneto standards, which basically means that he twitches the shrapnel just enough in Tony's chest to bring him to his knees, and remind him that Tony should really have put nostalgia aside and gotten an op to remove them months ago. Things get better though, after this exchange of pleasantries.
Magneto's up on world events. Tony doesn't have to do much more than mention that he's already seen Xavier to get Magneto listening.
He's skeptical, first, and then furious, but fortunately, he doesn't seem inclined to direct it at Tony.
He also, thanks to a few judiciously edited details, doesn't direct it at SHIELD.
Instead, he directs it at Polt.
Tony's fine with that.
Polt is in jail anyway.
In the end, Magneto accepts the research. He also asks why Tony isn't only handing its schematics over to Xavier.
Hell if Tony knows. Not like there's any theoretical reason why killing X-men with the serum is any worse than killing them with any other method. Still. Kids. Wives. Preventative measures. Steve. He sticks to the diplomatic answer— that most of the X-men who don't have access to Xavier do have access to Magneto, that he's pretty sure Xavier would share the data but not totally, that he's neutral in the conflict except when Magneto's blowing up Manhattan, and, finally, that he's not, and never has been, a fan of genocide.
Magneto doesn't look particularly grateful or touched, but he does let Tony leave and doesn't rip the shrapnel through his chest so Tony's calling it a tentative success.
He'll need to get that op though, at some point.
Weirdly, the thought of lying helpless while a bunch of surgeons he doesn't know hack into his chest and try not to ruin his heart makes his gut churn. Something to worry about later, maybe.
Natasha's at the mansion when he gets back. She comes bearing takeout. She also comes with a job offer for Loki to work with SHIELD.
"You're smart. Fury wants you. We could use someone with a skillset like yours."
"I'm flattered, Romanoff," Loki says, dryly, accepting a pizza.
"No," Loki agrees.
Too many memories, Tony suspects.
It's when they're sitting around the TV watching The Hobbit part two together, minus Steve and Loki, that it finally sinks in.
Maybe it's not forever, maybe the next villain will pop up like an unwanted weed tomorrow, but for now, Polt's done.
They end up staying a week in his mansion, all up.
After that, Tony makes plans to return to the Tower.
Steve says something noble about rent and, "kind of having invited himself to the Tower in the first place," and going back to his own apartment, since he's still paying for it and not paying Tony anything.
Loki asks, idly, if it's possible to rent in the same building, which makes Steve's lips twist wryly and Tony tell them both that he's feeling extremely rejected. When Tony asks Steve later— casually, because it's not like he's so possessive with his friends that he isn't going to let them go if they want to— if he'll consider staying on his current floor just so Tony can reach him when emergencies crop up instead of just finding out he hasn't charged his phone, Steve's eyes go sort of fond and warm. He says yes like he's actually touched. Tony's not sure why.
Bruce ends up crashing there too, once Loki says that he can put him to sleep with magic and Tony's shot the demigod a quelling look and told him he doesn't need to sedate the Hulk because Tony likes the Hulk too, and he's custom-making a floor solid enough not to break under the Hulk in case he wants to chill in it.
Clint and Tasha come separately, and sort of end up staying just until SHIELD's been restructured, because it's kind of nice, they say, to actually be able to sleep.
Thor visits too, but he doesn't live there. Mostly, he stays with Jane.
Tony thinks Loki may be jealous of that, just a bit.
Two weeks after they've moved in, Fury turns up. He asks to speak to Loki privately, and the demigod agrees. Tony isn't sure what they talk about. He should, rightfully. He's got the tech. Unfortunately, Jarvis, the traitor, won't tell him; something about Loki having requested privacy. Privacy Tony's ass. Tony's scheduling a talk, soon, about loyalty, and the people certain AI's owe it to.
Steve asks, after dinner, what it was about.
Loki tells him it was just another job offer that he turned down.
Tony half believes him. Kind of. Would, maybe, if Loki's eyes weren't so shadowed, later, and if he didn't know Fury well enough to suspect that that isn't the kind of thing the director makes a habit of doing in person.
Still, for now he lets it slide, with a:
"Good choice, Robbie. They couldn't afford you anyway."
"Thank you," Loki says.
"You should consider it," Natasha says, seriously. "If you're intending to keep looking out for Earth, you'd be more effective with us."
"And who said that I was intending to do anything of the sort?"
Natasha sends him an even look.
Loki won't meet it.
"So what are you planning on doing for a living?" Clint says. "You know, besides sponging off Tony?"
"I was not aware that I needed to do anything besides that for a living."
"Burn, Locksley," Tony snorts.
"But I suppose that if I needed to work," Loki adds, grudgingly, "I would consider working for you, Pepper. Your pay is better than Fury's."
"Don't get to kill people though," Clint says, to the side, and Tony's not sure which disturbs him more. The fact that Clint would list that as a draw-card, or the fact that Loki actually does look kinda torn.
Three weeks later, a hot chick in a steel breastplate, a miniskirt and a two-bladed sword that somehow manages to work for her turns up on earth, claiming that the Bifrost has been fixed, and in the period it hasn't been war's broken out on six of the nine realms, and Thor's needed back. She eyes Loki coolly when she sees him, but there's something in her eyes that's almost regret when Loki sends her a lopsided smile and asks how she's been, and if she's yet castrated someone called Fandral. Loki refuses to go back to Asgard with Thor, when he asks.
"You are perfectly capable of smashing things without me, Thor. You've managed well enough these last eighteen months."
"I will miss you, brother," Thor says.
His hand is on Loki's neck, now, weirdly personal. Tony wonders if the gesture is an Asgard thing or just a Thor thing.
"And now you are just being maudlin," Loki sighs, looking like he's trying to look like Thor's hand is irritating him and mostly failing. "My answer stands, Thor. Try not to die. I would so hate to have to go to Helheim to retrieve you."
"Valhalla, belike," Thor grins.
Loki smacks him across his shoulder, but there's amusement there mixed with the exasperation, and when Thor laughs, grins, and shifts the hand down to his shoulder for a manly squeeze of farewell, there's a light behind Loki's eyes that's almost hungry. A moment later Thor steps away, and then he's gone, lost in a beam of radiant light. Sif goes with him. Tony wonders if it's possible to steal the brain of whoever made that tech.
"No," Loki says absently, eyes still fixed somewhere up in the sky, "I am not telling you how to make the Bifrost."
"Why not?" Tony says, peeved.
"Because they have the capacity to blow up planets, and your security here is so poor that every villain in the Known Realms would steal it from you as soon as you found a way to make it work," Loki says bluntly, glancing directly at him. "I have grown fond of this planet, and I do not wish to see it blow up."
"That's..." Tony says weakly. "Come on, my security is way better than that."
Loki makes a skeptical noise.
Tony gives up.
"Lay you ten to one Thor's calling you," he says, instead.
For a moment, Loki almost looks wistful. Then he musters up a dismissive:
"He will not. Thor is not so helpless."
"He will. Even if he doesn't need you, he'll be calling you for help."
"He will," Steve agrees, "What'll you do when he does?"
Loki hesitates. For a moment, Tony thinks he's going to say something sensible like "scry him and not go if he's lying." Then Loki smiles, almost ruefully.
"What would you do, Tony, if Colonel Rhodes were to call you, or Bucky you, Steve, had he lived?"
"Go," Steve says.
"Film his suffering and post it on YouTube," Tony says.
"Go," Loki agrees, rolling his eyes at Tony. "But until he does, I will remain here."
"In my R&D branch," Tony says, firmly. "If anyone's getting you, it's us."
Loki snorts. He's pleased though, Tony can tell. But then, he's always been a sucker for flattery, and for being wanted.
"I will consider it."
"I'll give you the waffle iron," Tony wheedles, shamelessly.
Loki eyes him sideways, calculatingly.
"And the secret of how to make it, in case it ever dies?"
"Cross my heart. I'll even teach you how to mix up the batter from scratch."
"You mean that Pepper will," Loki corrects him.
"She'd do more than that to get you. And to stop you killing people. Which, I hate to break it to you, is considered here a decentive, rather than an incentive, on a job description."
Loki snorts, amused, and Steve mumbles something about being incorrigible, shaking his head. Tony ignores him like the responsible adult he is and reaches for the scotch, pouring himself a shot. Loki waves a hand, summoning a glass to match him, and Tony can see the amusement shining glass-bright in his eyes.
"A deal, Tony. To research, then, and to not killing though I make no promises for what I will do on other realms after my office hours are done."
"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that," Steve says.
"Likewise, buddy. To that then, and to home," Tony says flippantly, raising his glass.
"To home," Loki echoes, and drinks.